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Staff file photo / Jimmy White, president of Urban Story Ventures LLC, stands in some overgrown weeds at the vacant Alstom manufacturing plant in this 2018 photo. The industrial buildings to the left and behind were slated to be demolished to make room for new development.

Claiming the pandemic is piquing interest in Chattanooga, an owner of the massive former Alstom plant on downtown's Westside says it's positioned to gain new housing, manufacturing and offices.

"COVID has changed the way people are looking at space," said Jimmy White, president of Urban Story Ventures. "There's a mass exodus leaving large cities. Chattanooga is benefiting from that."

White said there are talks with a developer who wants to put 130 new residential units on the riverfront site which is now called The Bend. Young people and retirees are among potential residents in the market, he said.

Also, multiple negotiations are ongoing related to the huge turbomachinery factory on the Riverfront Parkway tract that could bring hundreds of jobs, White said.

He has told real estate information company CoStar News that a space industry company with operations in nearby Huntsville, Alabama, is in discussions with his group, though a deal isn't finalized.

In addition, there's a $50 million, 8-story office tower in the works near Main Street, and another 20-story building is envisioned.

"In Chattanooga, I see an increase in demand," White said, noting companies are looking at leaving big cities such as Atlanta and Chicago.

In all, he said Urban Story Ventures is lining up about 1,500 jobs for the 115-acre parcel, which he and business partner Hiren Desai purchased for $30 million in 2018.

Manufacturing on the parcel goes back more than 100 years. For decades, it held Combustion Engineering's operations and later Alstom and GE Power, which shut down facilities and then sold the property to White's group.

Alstom had invested about $300 million a little more than a decade ago in the turbomachinery plant to make turbines for the nuclear power industry.

Since Urban Story Ventures purchased the site, it has added businesses bringing about 500 jobs, which was more than the few hundred when GE Power shut down.

Work is expected to start soon on putting in a new street grid for the sprawling tract, White said.

A Chattanooga development group currently is building new medical offices at The Bend, which are to bring about 70 jobs to the site this year.

Bob Elliott, Noon Development's president, said there's a growing need for new medical office space in the downtown market.

"This area of Riverfront Parkway will bring hundreds of new residents and foot traffic to the area," Elliott said.

The new building, named Riverfront Medical Center at The Bend, already has the first floor leased up as an ambulatory surgical center.

Micronics Engineered Filtration Group, which makes industrial filters for the steel, mining and pharmaceutical sectors, announced last year that it's moving its home office from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to the site. The new headquarters will add about 20 jobs to the manufacturing workforce that was already there, pushing that company's headcount to about 130 employees in Chattanooga.

"We felt Chattanooga had the most to offer," said Micronics Chief Executive Chris Cummins.

White, a partner in several other real estate ventures in the city, has said the eventual redevelopment of the property could bring $2 billion to $3 billion in investments, add over $11 million in tax revenue annually for Chattanooga and Hamilton County and spur more than 5,000 jobs. Other uses could include workforce housing, a 10,000-square-foot food hall and music venue, a canal, brewpub, child care center and more, White said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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